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President Biden pledges to cut America's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030

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President Biden vowed Thursday to cut America's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. He made the pledge during a virtual climate summit, with 40 world leaders in attendance. CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes discusses how the president plans to meet his goal.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: President Biden is vowing to cut carbon emissions in half. He made the pledge Thursday during a virtual climate change summit with other world leaders. The president says, quote, "The cost of inaction keeps mounting." He also urged other countries to step up. Here's CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

JOE BIDEN: This is the decisive decade.

NANCY CORDES: The president met with 40 world leaders today without ever leaving the East Room.

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NANCY CORDES: Mr. Biden came armed with an ambitious pledge. To cut US greenhouse emissions in half by the end of this decade.

JOE BIDEN: Those of us who represent the world's largest economies, we have to step up.

NANCY CORDES: To reach that goal, the US would need to cut fossil fuel use in every sector of the economy. How can you realistically make this pledge to the rest of the world when there's no guarantee that Republicans will get on board with your plan once you release it?

- You know, wind and solar had the biggest year they've ever had last year. And what we saw last year was continuation of tax credits that passed through a Republican-controlled Congress. So we all know where this is heading.

NANCY CORDES: Even as she spoke, other nations like Japan, Canada, and the UK we're making new pledges too. But the world's biggest carbon emitters, China, India and Russia--

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NANCY CORDES: --did not commit to a specific target. Scientists warn the window to stave off a 1.5 degree rise in global temperatures is closing. 18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg made that case to Congress.

GRETA THUNBERG: The fact that we are still having this discussion, and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels directly or indirectly using taxpayer money, is a disgrace.

LANA ZAK: And Nancy joins me now from the White House. Nancy, the president's plan to cut greenhouse emissions is largely tied to his infrastructure package. So I want to follow up on the question that you were asking in the White House briefing room. What is the backup if the bill doesn't make it out of Congress?

NANCY CORDES: Well, the White House officials we spoke to today argue that there are many different ways to get to that 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. They say that the markets are heading that way anyway, not just here in the US, but around the world. Industries are moving towards emitting fewer greenhouse gases. They see the writing on the wall.

But the reality is that this is an extremely ambitious agenda, especially if they don't have legislation in place to create those incentives, or even to punish emitters if they pollute too much. By one estimate, for example, you'd have to have 60% of all new cars battery-powered by 2030 in order to hit that goal. And right now, we're at about 2%.

LANA ZAK: Hmm. Well, this is really a bit of whiplash. Given how ambitious this was and this announcement was and the last administration is in stark contrast to it. So how have world leaders been reacting to having the US back at the table when it comes to battling climate change?

NANCY CORDES: Publicly, they've been very welcoming. We saw several world leaders at this conference say, we're so glad to have the United States back in the fold on this critical issue. But John Kerry, the president's climate envoy, acknowledged that behind the scenes he has heard some skepticism from world leaders who say, how do we know that you're here to stay? You pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, now you say that you're back in and you want to lead this effort.

But how can we be sure that four years from now, if President Biden isn't victorious, that we won't be in this situation all over again? So they acknowledge that there is some skepticism that they have to overcome here.

LANA ZAK: And one last question for you, Nancy. How does the Biden administration plan to encourage other countries to do more to curb climate change? We heard in your package that there are some big actors that are still staying on the sidelines. Not only to encourage them to do more, but also to hold them accountable.

NANCY CORDES: Right, well there is a big climate summit coming up in Scotland this fall where countries are going to have to put their money where their mouth is and get much more specific about what exactly it is that they plan to do to cut emissions. They really all have to issue a road map.

The US has to do that too. And they're working on that right now, because they haven't really said, up to now, exactly how they plan to get to this 50% cut in emissions. So that's a big deal. They've got to write it out. So that is one point of pressure.

And then beyond that, they talked a great deal at this conference about creating a big international fund that large countries would pay into-- including the US, which pledged to put billions into that fund-- to help developing countries that might otherwise turn to fossil fuels to make better choices. And to give them the funds to help them do that, as well as to give them funds to help them combat the effects of climate change that they're already experiencing.

LANA ZAK: All right, Nancy, thank you.

NANCY CORDES: You're welcome.